( Photo by Karen Pulfer Focht )
The Shelby County Commission on Monday approved a five-year plan to increase public safety and tackle the surge of violent crime in Memphis this year.
Memphis recently attracted nationwide attention after the murder of kindergarten teacher Eliza Fletcher by alleged killer Cleotha Henderson and the shooting spree of 19-year-old Ezekiel Kelly within a span of three days.
While overall crime decreased by 1.4% in 2021 compared to 2020, major violent crime has increased by 1.2%, gun-related violent incidents by 8.3%, serious juvenile chargess by 20.7%, murder by 7.2% and aggravated assaults by 2.4%.
As a result, the Memphis-Shelby Crime Commission, an organization created in 1996 after a similar crime spike, sought to make recommendations in reducing violence by identifying crime causation and deterrents.
In its 5-year plan, the commission identified loopholes in the “truth in sentencing” legislation passed by the Tennessee Legislature on May 9, 2022, explaining that although gun-related crime received harsher sentences, aggravated assaults were not placed in the same category even if a gun was involved in a given incident.
The commission also pointed out the need for crime deterrents such as a full Memphis Police Department staff, group violence intervention programs, neighborhood watch expansions, incentives for parolees and quicker processing times for sexual assault kits.
After his arrest, Henderson was later linked to a 2021 sexual assault, leading to national scrutiny of Tennessee’s processing of sexual assault kits. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, which is responsible for processing the kits across the state, blamed limited staff and the need for more technicians. Gov. Bill Lee later announced the TBI would receive fast-tracked funding to hire additional staff.
As for juveniles, the commission noted there was little deterrences for juvenile criminals beyond treating them as adults in sentencing. Instead juveniles should be taken to the Youth and Family Resource Center, an organization seeking to divert youth from progressing further into the juvenile justice system. Intervention programs for schools and after-school programs should be another focus, according to the plan, and collaborations with organizations providing child therapy services.
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